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Taking Balloon Art to the Distance

“Please tell me more about yourself…”

“I’m a pug owner who fell in love with balloons over a decade ago, and I constantly marvel at how being a balloon artist has opened my world up to friendships and creative opportunities around the world.”

Meet Kristal Yee – business owner, pug-lover, award-winning face painter and balloon artist, and proud Surrey citizen. She grew up here having attended Green Timbers Elementary and then Enver Creek Secondary, and is a Surrey homeowner. And now, she has been paramount in putting Surrey on the map, due to her reputation of creativity and professionalism in her respective field.

But how does one get involved in the wild world of balloon art and face painting? “I trained in theatre way back in the day, and one summer [during my twenties], an acting colleague of mine asked if I wanted a job working with kids (they were short staffed that weekend).

I didn’t have any shows or anything going on at that time, so i figured, why not! I ended up painting my first face paint design, and twisting my first one-balloon creations…and things went from here!” And what was that first balloon Yee created? “I believe, either a classic one balloon dog, or a one balloon sword.” Yee completed the Douglas College theatre program, and did a few semesters at Studio 58, along with training with David MacMurray Smith (a local performer and educator). There are some key takeaways from her learnings that Yee still takes into account on a daily basis…. “being present in the moment as much as possible, remembering that when I’m saying things, some people are hearing the story for the first time, and breathing from my diaphragm.”

It’s one thing to help a friend out with an event one time, another to make something into a full-time career. But Yee did just that. “For a long time, I would take weekend bookings, and go to auditions during the week (for acting). At some point, I started thinking to myself that auditions were taking up the time that I could be putting towards events!

That was around the time I started transitioning (into a full-time career of this).” “[My family and friends] thought it was great! Everyone was very supportive. I found out that some of my colleagues weren’t as fortunate when telling their families about their chosen career – so I consider myself very lucky to have everyone behind me.”

Yee has come a long way since the initial balloon dog and sword. Now with her business, she is booked nearly all year, well in advance, and has broadened her portfolio to making balloon art as complex as balloon dresses! “Most of my work is face painting and/or balloons in a party/line work setting. I also create what I call Balloon Candy Cups – essentially, the balloon version of a goody bag!

I have also been doing more decor/large pieces, though I do more of a deco-twisting style, rather than classic decor.” She covers anything from birthdays to grand openings, wedding receptions to baby showers, and even some trade shows and large international builds – being a part of a Guinness World Record! “All of the events I have coming up are special ones.”

“One of the coolest things about my chosen career, is that it lets me travel! I have twisted balloon creations in Italy, China, across the United States, and just this past summer my colleagues and I travelled to Australia to create an Enchanted Garden out of balloons, complete with balloon dresses for the bride and bridesmaids, for a balloon artist wedding!”

And what’s one of the coolest international events she has participated in thus far? Representing Team Canada at the World Balloon Convention (WBC), which took place in San Diego in March 2018. “A number of years back I’d been thinking about how Canada was never represented. The few Canadians that did attend, usually ended up helping our American friends, as no one had put together a Canadian team.”

After realizing that there was no Canadian representation at Worlds, “I mentioned to some fellow Canadians that I’d been playing with the idea of competing there. At a convention in 2015, I believe, someone came up to me, introduced himself and said he’d heard that I was going to start a Canadian team. So I looked across to another Canadian I’d been talking to, and asked if he was interested – and it went from there!

I had an idea of each potential member’s skills, and each of the 4 original members I asked have all been assets to the team. We started with 5 members because our first compress in the Medium category – that could have a maximum of 5 people!” “I ended up being a founding member of Canada’s Twisted Team (originally Canada’s Twisted Five).”

In the 2018 WBC, competitors were allowed to use Disney characters for the first time, and naturally, Team Canada decided to design a piece called the “Sorcerer’s Serenade.” In this design, sorcerer Mickey was included wooing Princess Minnie while accompanied by an enchanted broom band. The team had 27 hours to complete their design with no allowances for preparations ahead of time. Within the 27 hours they were required to cut, shape, and present their entire display. The Pioneer Balloon Company chose judges (from within the industry) for each competition based on their area of expertise, and after tough competition and judging criterias, Team Canada received a Bronze Achievement Award!

The next WBC will be held in 2021, and Team Canada is unsure if they will attend to continue their winning streak, but nonetheless, this previous event has brought a spotlight to Canadian balloon artists on an international stage through Canada’s Twisted Team – which was the team’s principal goal. “At this point, we do still have plans for future projects, though whether that includes full team competitions or not is up in the air!

Yee is proud of the Surrey arts scene and expresses her pride in hearing about local concerts and performances happening at the Surrey Arts Centre and other local theatres.

Like any art form, the community embraces newcomers. Yee explains that there is an infinite number of resources available online for those wanting to learn more, and there are also a couple of monthly “balloon jams” that local balloon-twisting community hosts where you can practice and learn more from the pros.

For instance, upcoming jam information can often be found on the Raincoats Clown Troupe page on Facebook.

Want to keep in the loop with what Kristal Yee is up to or learn more about the wonderful world of balloon art and face art? Check out her website and social media!

Robyn Freiheit

Robyn Freiheit

Robyn is a status-quo disruptor, an old-soul, and has a serious passion towards continuous learning driven by a curiosity for the unknown. A creative and equally analytical thinker with experience in leadership, project management and marketing strategy. When she’s not working you can find her in the kitchen, searching for new music, or meandering local thrift stores, antique stores, or flea markets for a unique find.